Giles Slade came to British Columbia in August of 1993. He worked for many years as a copywriter for Harlequin's Gold Eagle series for which he wrote numerous books under the pen name Don Pendleton.
More significantly, his book Made To Break (2007) won an international gold medal for best environmental book. It was reviewed over 200 times--in Playboy, BusinessWeek, Mother Jones, GQ, TLS, Christian Science Monitor, LATimes, Chicago Tribune, Utne, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun, etc., and he was interviewed on CNN, NPR, CBC [many times]. He appeared in an award winning documentary on European TV called 'The LightBulb Conspiracy.' This documentary by Spanish filmmaker Cosima Dannortitzer was shown at the DOXA film festival in Vancouver in May of 2012.
The Big Disconnect (2012) is about how technology isolates us. "It should interest everyone who goes to sleep watching TV or commutes in solitude while listening to an iPod," he says. The book was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement in April of 2013. "I'm happy as a clam," he said. "It's not the New York Review of Books, but it is encouraging, y'know. Usually, I just sit in the basement room and type. Sometimes the phone rings, but it is usually for my 8 year old."
Near the outset of the book's introduction, Slade writes, "What it is to be human has diminished under pressures from technology and from the application of economic reasoning to every aspect of human life. Man has shrunk to an atomic unit orbiting, serving and servicing the machinery of his city and his economy. Human longing persists, but it is no longer projected backwards towards our divine, parental origins. Instead we project our longing into the technological future where we imagine –again—that we will soon be fulfilled and finally free.
"By 2010, the size of the average American workspace declined from the 90 square feet allotted to workers in 1994, to only 75 square feet. Although they are much more difficult to quantify, human relationships have also shrunk. Fewer and fewer people have a friend or single trusted confidante. More and more people live alone. Many have ‘friends’ on Facebook, but go home to lonely dwellings where they divert themselves during the empty hours with technological distractions: the Internet, HD or 3D television, videos, electronic games, entertainment systems, exercise machines, sports programs, Jacuzzi tubs, personal automatic baristas, and automatic sex toys that would have embarrassed sex-trade workers of an earlier generation. This is not good for people, but for manufacturers and marketers, human beings are best when they are alone since individuals are forced to buy one consumer item each, whereas family or community members share their cars, their washing machines, their televisions, their PCs. Technology’s movement towards miniaturization serves this end by making personal electronics suitable for individual users. You carry your phone, your music device, your tablet with you. For today’s carefully-trained consumers, sharing is an intrusion on personal space."
Slade concludes a 60-page chapter on music by writing, “We have been conditioned for over a hundred years to risk interpersonal contact only through the mediation of machines. We trust machines much more than we trust human beings. Through the faint distance grooming of music listened to through earbuds, our machines provide us with an oxytocin surge that is much more reliable than most interactions with human beings even if it invites comparisons with babies’ pacifiers. Earbuds are pacifiers for adults. We pay handsomely for them.”
Slade's American Exodus claims the movement of Mexicans since 1982 is simply the first stage of a climate migration that will eventually force Americans to leave their homes in the South and along America's coasts for the best climate the continent offers: Canada.
Slade has also written book reviews for TLS, New York Times, CSM, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Mother Jones, and a variety of other papers and magazines.
DATE OF BIRTH: 28-11-53
PLACE OF BIRTH: Ottawa, ON
ARRIVAL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: 1993, August
ANCESTRAL BACKGROUND: Irish and English
EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: high-end copywriter & ghostwriter. Contact agent John W. Wright, NYNY with proposals
AWARDS: Reviewed in TLS, LRoB, Nature, Irish Times, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Playboy, BusinessWeek, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle
Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America (Harvard University Press, April 2006).
The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness (Prometheus Books 2012) $19 U.S. 978-1-61614-595-8
American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival (New Society 2013) 978-0-86571-749-7
Light Bulb Conspiracy
Press Release (2012)
The documentary film 'The LightBulb Conspiracy’ is based on Giles Slade’s Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America (Harvard University Press, April 2006). It was made by Spanish filmmaker Cosima Dannoritzer whose films include: Re-Building Berlin (Channel 4, U.K., 1992, Journalism Prize of the Anglo-German Society 1993), Germany Inside Out (BBC, U.K. / YLE, Finland, 2001), If Rubbish Could Speak (TVE, Spain, 2003, awards from 'Ekotopfilm' and The'Green Vision Film Festival') and Electronic Amnesia (TVE, Spain, 2006).
The Vancouver DOXA film festival states, “By now we barely even question it: consumer products don’t last. But, as this doc helpfully shows us, there was a time when the goods we spent our hard-earned money on could be counted on to keep working for years and years. What happened? Collusion of big business and the short-sighted desire for more manufacturing and sales created what is called “planned obsolescence.” Director Cosima Dannoritzer explores this phenomenon, centring on the seminal plan among light bulb manufacturers to create short-lasting products in order to increase their profits. And there’s much more: the film takes on the particulars of contemporary consumerism, the remarkable story of an American fire station with an old-fashioned light bulb that’s been working for decades, and the determined quest of one man to fix a printer that everyone he talks to tells him to throw out. Brisk and fact-filled, this is a disturbing but hopeful eye-opener.”
American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival by Giles Slade (New Society Publishers $19.95)
from John Moore
In American Exodus journalist Giles Slade puts an ironic Canadian spin on the role of Yankee patriot Paul Revere, who warned colonists of the approaching British during the Revolutionary War. If Slade is right, in the decades to come Canada may be added to a list of nations invaded by the United States on some bogus pretext required by U.S. “national interest.” They tried twice before, once after the Revolutionary War and again during the War of 1812, mainly to irritate the British. They got a swift kick back south both times, but this time they won’t be coming for political reasons or even for oil; they’ll be coming for—and escaping from—water.
Most of our planet is covered by water, unfortunately not in a state we can drink or use to irrigate crops, but still the single most important factor that creates weather—determining how much we get to drink and how much we can grow. Yes, American Exodus is about global warming and no matter how much you’ve enjoyed our recent heat wave summer or how tired you are of hearing the arguments about this issue, if you’re Canadian, you need to read it.
Global warming is no longer a subject for debate. As Slade points out, both major political parties in the United States have now grudgingly accepted it as a fact of policy in the 21st century. Global warming deniers, a handful of corporate flacks and their funded academic toadies, are increasingly being left out of the discussion of an issue in which if you’re not part of the solution, you may end up being dissolved in it.
Slade’s explication of what is admittedly a complex issue is one of the clearest and most succinct to date. Most books and articles about global warming get bogged down by the ‘planetary’ scale of the subject. American Exodus succeeds because Slade confines himself to the effects it will have on just one continent—ours. Simply put, global warming results in glacial and polar cap melt, which means a rise in sea level, and it also fast-forwards once infrequent El Nino/La Nina oceanic weather effects which produce super-storms like Hurricane Katrina, whose destruction of New Orleans was just a sample of what coastal North American cities can expect frequently in the decades to come.
Giles Slade’s prognostications for North America’s emblematic metropolis, New York, are especially chilling. New York is embodied in its skyline, its sky-scraping towers, which is why the 9/11 terrorist attacks were so psychologically devastating to Americans. But Slade observes that New York’s real Achilles’ heel is below sea level—in thousands of miles of underground sewers. Forget disaster movies showing a 60-foot computer-generated tsunami busting the traffic lights on Wall Street. All it will take, Slade notes, is a slight ocean rise, a high tide and a named storm and flooded sewers will turn the Big Apple into Typhus Beach on Lake Cholera. The evacuation of the Big Plague Pit will make the panic caused by Orson Welles’ famous “invasion from Mars” radio program look like a schoolboy prank.
But Slade isn’t overly concerned about cities, though they are where governments put their rescue efforts because of the number of people (voters) affected. The serious threat to the U.S., he points out, is the relentless ‘desertification’ of the South and Midwest as temperatures rise. Much of Northern Mexico, Texas, California, and New Mexico are already experiencing water crises as a result of drought, over-exploitation of the Colorado River and the perilous drawing down of the Oglalla Aquifer, the ancient irreplaceable reserve of fossil water under the Great Plains. Like drought-ravaged Somalia, Mexico is on the verge of becoming a ‘failed state’ because, as Toronto professor Thomas Homer-Dixon famously pointed out, the impossibility of sustaining even subsistence agriculture inexorably leads to social and political collapse.
The upshot is that Americans are going to be on the move once again, whether they like it or not, driven by the irresistible whip of thirst as the southern half of North America runs dry and its agri-business, (on which we also depend) fails. After all, migration has been the epic theme of North and South America, the last continents to be colonized by the human species during its hunter-gatherer phase ten to twelve thousand years ago. When Old World European nations “re-discovered” the Americas, they migrated in messianic droves, seeking El Dorado, The City of Gold, or the New Jerusalem, the City of God. After the American Civil War, immigrants followed Horace Greely’s advice, “Go West, young man,” while freed slaves moved north en masse. Deluded by technological superiority that enabled conquest of the native inhabitants, Americans assumed that superiority extended to nature itself.
Recent archeological evidence however, suggests that native empires—Maya, Toltec, Aztec and Inca—fell largely due to environmental factors and Slade makes a persuasive case that the United States as we know it may follow them, not into oblivion, but into the amber stasis of history as the lower half of their country becomes simply uninhabitable. For decades, it has been intellectually fashionable among Canadians to subscribe to a conspiracy theory which holds that Americans, as an extension of their 19th century policy of Manifest Destiny, have worked behind the political scenes to make Canada a vast reservoir of water and water-generated electrical power to serve the U.S.
Will they actually come to Canada, move in next door, marry our sisters or brothers, and change our society and political system? Would it be so terrible if they did? Confining himself to the effects of climate change, Slade doesn’t address these issues in American Exodus, though he does sound a warning about the social and civil unrest that resulted from the migration of refugees from the Dust Bowl to California in the 1930s, the subject of John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Slade leaves those questions provocatively hanging at the end of American Exodus, to be addressed, we hope, in his next book.
John Moore has contributed book reviews to various publications for more than twenty years.